Content Trends in Contemporary Horror Films
Barry S. Sapolsky Florida State University
Fred Molitor Bowling Green State University
In this chapter we look at the evolution of the horror film with special attention to conditions that facilitated the emergence of exploitation "teenpics." One teenpic subgenre that emerged in the 1960s following the critical and commercial success of Hitchcock Psycho was gore cinema. Gore films, so named for their attention to the gross-out butchering and even eating of human flesh, pushed the limits of on-screen violence. By the 1970s the outgrowth of gore cinema was the so-called "slasher" movie. Critics have blasted the producers of slasher films, claiming these films disproportionately portray vicious attacks on women and tie images of extreme violence to scenes of sexual titillation and precoital behavior. We examine the results of recent content analyses of slasher movies to test the validity of the assumptions made about violence to women and the linkage of sex and violence.
The horror movie genre was established in the 1930s with the release of Dracula and Frankenstein. Within 10 years, horror films were to become highly derivative, replete with recycled characters and themes, and "strangled by riding a few once-successful types into the ground, exhausting their novelty and coaxing sighs instead of screams" ( Kendrick, 1991, p. 221). Intent on not offending their audiences, producers avoided images of bloodshed or dismemberment; the "blunting of horror for the sake of universal appeal" ( Kendrick, 1991, p. 222) had, by the late 1940s made the horror movie nearly extinct.